Tornados show need for extra alert channels

Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

As many families took cover last weekend while an EF1 tornado ripped through Pike County, many city and county officials were busy working to keep us safe.

First responders and utility crews worked diligently to help those affected by the storms and to clear debris and downed power lines.

Pike County EMA officials worked hard as well to get the counties sirens back online as none of the sirens functioned properly during the tornado warning.

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Officials identified the problem and fixed the majority of the sirens in just four hours to prepare the county for the possibility of a second wave of severe storms that was predicted to hit Saturday night.

Although the storm never fully materialized that night, the work of EMA officials was still important in preparing the county for the worst possible scenario.

The issue with the sirens, however, highlights the need for the county to continue looking into the prospect of a mass notification system, an idea that EMA Director Jeanna Barnes pitched to the Pike County Commission months ago and recently brought back up after the EMA had trouble finding a solution to fix a down siren in Goshen.

Barnes explained that 10 of the counties 18 sirens are now so old that parts are no longer made for systems, making repairs much more expensive; Barnes said repairs could easily cot $10,000 or more. New sirens, Barnes said, can cost $20,000 to $30,000.

The nine sirens still active could suffer the same fate at any moment if they’re struck by lightning, Barnes said.

With this information in mind, it seems imperative that the county needs to use an alternative method to notify residents of emergencies. The EMA immediately took to social media once they realized the sirens were down, and Barnes said the message actually reached 29,000 people within the time frame of the storm.

The county will have to do more than that though to keep residents informed.

The notification system the county is considering would be able to send text alerts, emails and could even send voice calls to landlines, a crucial element to reaching some of the counties older and more rural residents. The alerts can be used for much more than just tornado warnings as well, including road closures, other weather warnings and emergency information.

With that said, the county has use sirens for a long time and the best option for the county, if at all possible, would be to find a way to run both the sirens and the mass notification system together for as long as possible.

But the siren failure on Saturday makes it clear; the county needs to think long and hard about finding other ways to warn people, and a mass notification system seems like that would be a step in the right direction.